The British Influence on the Practise of Hypnosis

Hypnosis as used in psychotherapy has a rich history in the UK

Go to the profile of Shaun Brookhouse
Nov 21, 2017
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If we go back to the days of 1000-1400 AD a phenomenon known as the Royal Touch was practised by UK Royalty. This was the laying of hands on the throats of sufferers of scrofula. This is more commonly known today as tuberculosis. Now of course no hypnotist today would claim to cure TB with hypnosis, but the mere suggestion that the monarch was directly anointed by God to be sovereign was enough for many people to report miraculous cures from this affliction. After all, isn'��t hypnotism the utilization of suggestion for a positive outcome?

We now go to the 1800's and John Elliotson. He was made Professor of Principles and Practice of the Physic at London University in 1831. Professor Elliotson was a great proponent of the use of mesmerism in surgical procedures. At the time this was a scandal, and when the choice came, rather than to abandon Mesmerism he resigned his Professorship and opened up a mesmeric hospital and also was a founder of the Phrenological Society in 1838. Elliotson was the editor of the Mesmerist Journal, The Zoist. Elliotson believed that most patients would benefit from the use of mesmerism in surgical procedures, he stated that "��Mesmerism was undoubtedly useful in a minority of cases for minor surgery and perhaps the presence of a charismatic physician".

Moving away from London, we go to Manchester, the home of my practice and school and in my opinion the spiritual home of hypnosis, to Dr James Braid. Braid was born in Fife, Scotland in 1795. Braid set up his practice in Manchester not far from where I currently practice. He became interested in Mesmerism after seeing a demonstration by Lafontain in 1841, who was a celebrated Mesmerist who leaned more towards a stage hypnotist than a clinician. He developed a technique for inducing a trance state by getting a subject to focus his/her eyes on a small bright object held in his hand very close to the client which strained the client�s eyes which caused spontaneous eye closure and eye lid fluttering. Of course in addition to this Braid is credited by many as coining the term Neuro-Hypnosis which was shortened to hypnosis which we know today as the title of what we all do.

The 1800'��s were a busy time for British Hypnotism so we leave this time with James Esdaile, who was a protégé of Professor Elliotson. Whilst working for the British East India Company he had a far less restricted practice than he would have had in London, especially if he was performing surgery on the native Indians. In 1846, Elliotson published his experiences in a book entitled Mesmerism in India, and its Practical Application in Surgery and Medicine. In this book he reports on many case histories including one amputation each of an arm and a breast, two amputations of penises, three cataracts removed, five cases of removing enlarged toenails by their roots, seven operations for fluid buildup in various body cavities, and the removal of fourteen scrotal tumors, ranging from 8 to 80 pounds in weight. At a time when surgical mortality was about 40%, Esdaile reported a rate of about 5%. Esdaile believed that this dramatic change was the direct result of using Mesmerism for pain control.

These are names that I am sure you are all familiar with, but another name that you are probably familiar with who also used Mesmerism for entertainment purposes was the author Charles Dickens. What is interesting about Dickens is that he would not allow himself to be hypnotized.

We jump a few years now to 1903 and the work of J. Milne Bramwell, the author of Hypnotism: Its History, Practice and Theory. This book was an authoritative research text on hypnotism. Not only in the UK, but throughout the European continent. Bramwell, looks closely at the works of the previous authors and adds additional insights by writing about the experiences in his practice. Bramwell also extended his observations from the clinical and medical to subjects as diverse as the occult, phrenology, and telepathy. His text, though over 100 years old is still a viable introduction to the subject of hypnotism.

The last author/clinician I would like to look at in this piece is Dr John Hartland. His seminal work Medical and Dental Hypnosis has gone through 4 editions since 1966. Hypnotherapy courses all over the world rely heavily on Hartland�s Ego Strengthening Script. Hartland was a psychiatrist who was very active in the use of hypnotism in medical practice and was past president of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis. What makes Hartland an interesting character is that he, unlike many of his contemporaries was not opposed to the practice of hypnotism by non medical/psychological practitioners. In fact a very dear friend of mine has a letter giving her permission to teach any of his materials on her courses.

Hypnotherapy, now Hypno-Psychotherapy has been recognised by the then UK Standing Conference for Psychotherapy and now the UK Council for Psychotherapy since the early 1980's. Within the hypno-psychotehrapy modality, hypnosis is used as a vehicle for the delivery of psychotherapy which does differ from hypnotherapy in that hypnotherapists are not necessarily trained as psychotherapists.

In more recent times, the profession in this country has agreed National Occupational Standards which are endorsed by both the profession and the Department of Education and Skills. These standards offer an outline as what is expected of hypnotic practitioners who offer services to the public. These standards are generic enough for all schools of thought to be recognized, yet also specific enough so that learning outcomes are very clear for both the trainer and student to understand as well as what is expected in terms of competency for a student to complete his/her training. We here in the UK have avoided much of the "turf wars"�� which have made life very difficult for our US cousins.

The history of hypnosis is very much a part of the history of psychotherapy and it is my hope that both will continue to flourish in the decades to come. 

Go to the profile of Shaun Brookhouse

Shaun Brookhouse

Shaun Brookhouse, a Manchester Psychotherapist, is a Full Clinical Member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and a Fellow of the American Psychotherapy Association He has been a qualified therapist since 1989 and a qualified psychotherapist since 1994. In addition to his clinical and supervisionary work, he is the Principal of the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy a UKCP Founding Training and Accrediting Organisational Member, established in 1977.

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